Best and Worst of Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018

Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018 is a festival that feels put together for those that have aged out of Coachella.

They could have grown out of dealing with the dust and 100+ degree temperatures. Or they could have grown out of dealing with a bunch of teenagers on molly. But either way, you can’t deny it’s just a much chiller vibe overall.

Kings of Leon and Jack White are former Coachella headliners who likely will never top the bill in Indio again — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them to headline out west. They were on the top line of Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018, alongside legendary names Neil Young and Robert Plant, who were supported by their lesser known bands than their original projects.

With names like the Pretenders, Belle and Sebastian, Alanis Morissette, Third Eye Blind, Violent Femmes, The Bangles, The Specials, and The Revolution, Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018 was clearly a lineup targeting people in their late thirties and older. The festival had a 10-and-under get in free rule, it was a great excuse to drag the kids out to see some of the music that shaped their parents’ lives.

There were dad and mom dance moves everywhere. It was glorious.

Arroyo Seco’s lineup also featured Kamasi Washington, Gary Clark Jr., Shakey Graves, Margo Price, Allen Stone, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Dorothy, Margaret Glaspy, and Fantastic Negrito. That meant it was also an opportunity for some teenagers to maybe turn their parents onto some of today’s best in rock, soul, jazz, and alt-country.

Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018 has certainly made a case for being the best family-friendly festival — even as pot and vape smoke billowed throughout the crowd. After two days spent in the sun, I’ve recapped what I found to be the Best and Worst of Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018.

BEST: New blanket-and-chairs designated area policy

The only thing that left a bitter taste in my mouth about the inaugural Arroyo Seco Weekend last year was the entitlement of old people placing their chairs and blankets 10 or 15 feet from the stage. This year, the festival designated a large area in front of both the two main stages as being standing room only, with a 10 foot area separating the standing room from an area where blankets and chairs could be placed. It was a genius move.

Not once did I have to have a shitty interaction with someone who gave me a look for stepping across their blanket to get to a better spot. The people that were there to be close to the performers were rewarded and the people who wanted to relax and chill got to do so around likeminded people. It was the one improvement I heard people all around me talk about the most.

BEST: Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket” proves to be always timely anthem

It was a song I hadn’t heard in many years. It was a song that was once a staple of my childhood radio station Live 105 in the Bay Area. I remember hearing it daily and seeing the music video just as often. But hearing it for the first time in so long, it really struck me as being an anthem for young people. Millennials are blamed for pretty much everything these days, we’re told we’re never going to retire, etc. Hearing a bunch of people my age sing “I’m young and I’m underpaid, I’m tired but I’m working, yeah” at the top of their lungs gave me goosebumps.

Alanis’ whole set was one of the true highlights of the weekend. She’s someone I wouldn’t have necessarily gone out of my way to see her own show, but her set Sunday may have changed my mind. I forgot how many bangers she had — “Uninvited” has such a heavy part to it that I could see it being an influence on how Evanescence became a thing. It also reminded me how fucking awesome the City of Angels soundtrack was.  And she changed a line in “Ironic” to “It’s meeting the man of my dreams / And then meeting his beautiful husband” instead of “wife” — perhaps a nod to PRIDE Week. It was a nice touch that had the crowd clapping loudly.

WORST: Food prices were insane, long lines for best eats

Of course, the target demographic is rich Pasadena winos, so I understand. But a personal pizza from Jon & Vinny’s cost my friend twenty bucks. I didn’t really see anything else reasonably priced. The one thing I really wanted was a pastrami crunchwrap from Freedman’s Deli in Silverlake, but the line never looked shorter than a 30-minute wait. And the item isn’t on Freedman’s actual menu from what I can gather, which is disappointing.

BEST: Third Eye Blind gives teen big moment

Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins was thrashing his microphone and mic stand all throughout his set. It got to the point that the stand stopped functioning. He used it as an opportunity to pull a teenage family friend on stage to sing “Motorcycle Driveby”. This is a song that proliferated many a mixed CD of mine growing up. The girl named Lily flubbed a lyric in the first verse but Jenkins helped her recover, and from there she killed it. It’s a tough song to learn as Jenkins speak-sings at a breakneck speed, and it was heartwarming to see someone a decade younger than me sing that fantastically written song about heartbreak so passionately.


BEST: Gary Clark Jr. melts faces with multiple guitar solos

Gary Clark Jr. is the best guitarist under 40 — @ me. He only played eight songs but that’s because almost all of them featured him shredding for minutes at a time. I used it as an opportunity to try out the new Instagram lengthy video feature. I still haven’t found my face after the Austin musician melted it off. Luckily for us, Gary Clark Jr. has announced four dates at the Fonda Theatre for this November. He played a new song for the first time that sounded spectacular, and not far off from something I’d expect from Leon Bridges.

Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders

Five Favorite Sets of Arroyo Seco Weekend 2018:

  1. Gary Clark Jr. — Nobody under 40 does it better than Gary at guitar. Every time I see him it feels like I’m watching a generational talent.
  2. The Pretenders — So many of my earliest music memories are connected to listening to the CDs from my parents’ collection through headphones connected to the big stereo receiver. The album “I’ll Stand By You” came from was always in constant rotation. Seeing Chrissie Hynde sing those songs was a magical part of Saturday, even with only one other original member, drummer Martin Chambers (the other two are deceased).
  3. Jack White — He may not ever headline Coachella again — at least as a solo act — but he certainly proved to be a better fit for Arroyo Seco Weekend. There he didn’t compete with the robot noises coming from the Sahara Tent while he performed. He’s one of those musicians who connects with demographics young and old. Even small children chanted along the “oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs” of “Seven Nation Army”. “You’ve been California and I’ve been Jack White,” he signed off.
  4. Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters — His voice may have lost a step but that doesn’t mean the Led Zeppelin singer is washed up by any means. He wowed the crowd with old favorites like “The Lemon Song”, “Going to California”, and a cover of Joan Baez’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”.
  5. Alanis Morissette — Alanis is vastly underrated in terms of the effect and influence she had on so many singers who have come after her. But even moreso I think people forgot how many hits she had in the mid-to-late ’90s. Despite many of the songs being angsty as hell, she never had anything but a smile on her face.

Photos by Tim Aarons